Thursday, September 07, 2006

The Khatami Visit

Iran's former president, Mohammad Khatami, is currently in the midst of a visit to the US. Among other things, Khatami has been giving interviews in which he insists on the peace loving nature of the Iranian regime and blames George W. Bush for the problems of the Middle East.

Khatami has been widely portrayed as a moderate, and it's true that he is certainly less radical than his successor. Yet, as MEMRI helpfully reminds us, Khatami's "moderation" is not quite what some have made it out to be.

National Review Online recently published a symposium on the issue of the Khatami visit. While I don't agree with all the views expressed there, a number of the participants certainly provide some badly needed perspective on just how "moderate" Khatami's Iran really was. In the words of Pooya Dayanim:

During the Khatami era, freedom of press and assembly was relaxed by the Iranian intelligence and security apparatus to lull the reformists and true democrats into a false sense of security; thousands and thousands of students, journalists, women, clerics, and women started to express their opinions freely. For their foolish faith, many of them would pay. Khatami was president during the biggest crackdown on the Iranian media since the beginning of the Iranian revolution. Khatami was president when Jews were sent to prison on charges of espionage. Khatami was president when Canadian journalist Zahra Kazemi was killed and Khatami was president when thousands of university students were arrested after the 1999 student rioting. I could go on.

While Khatami gets ready to feast at the banquets being thrown in his honor, Ahmad Batebi, the hero of the 1999 student movement, must prepare himself for another day of torture and beatings in solitary confinement.

In light of Khatami's visit to the National Cathedral, the views of Nina Shea are especially relevant:

It is worth remembering that, Khatami’s insistence on dialogue between cultures notwithstanding, there has been none of it in revolutionary Iran. In addition to being listed as a terrorist state, and one of the triumvirates of the “axis of evil,” Khatami’s Iran was designated by the United States government as a “Country of Particular Concern” under the International Religious Freedom Act — that is, one of the world’s worst religious persecutors. All of Iran’s religious minorities — Bahaiis, Assyrian Christians, Catholics, Anglicans, Armenians, Evangelicals, Mandeans, Jews, and Zoroastrians — have suffered. Their numbers have steadily dwindled as they have fled religious oppression in their homeland; the presence of the ancient Assyrians and Mandeans is approaching statistical insignificance.

The Bahai, who started as a reformist movement within Shiite Islam in Iran in the early 19th century, are seen as heretics. Over 200 of their leaders have been killed by the government, while some ten thousand have been purged from government employment and schools. They have had no rights to property, and can’t officially marry or be buried in their religion. According to law, their blood is “Mobah” — it can be spilled with impunity and no one can be punished for murdering them.

The other Abrahamic faiths, officially “protected” by the state, are forced to abide by Islamic rules and live in great insecurity. Christian and Jewish grocery shop owners have been required to post their religion on their store fronts. Jews, whose numbers have been reduced to about a third of their pre-1979 population, have faced relentless state-sponsored anti-Semitism. Some were arrested and put on trial for spying for Israel under Khatami, until being later freed after international protest. Christians have been vulnerable to apostasy charges, with some imprisoned and others killed by government-linked death squads.

But the persecution that is the hallmark of Iran’s theocratic regime affects not only non-Muslim minorities. Muslims who do not subscribe to Iran’s state doctrine of Jafari (Twelver) Shiism have also been subject to bigotry and persecution. Sunnis and Sufis have regularly been discriminated against and banned from teaching their religion, as well as, on occasion, detained and tortured for their religious beliefs. Those Shiites who dare to dissent from state orthodoxy, too, have been arrested and tried for the capital offense of blasphemy, for the “crime of thinking,” as one Iranian Shiite reformist teacher said at his 2004 trial. Hundreds of newspapers have been shut down and many writers and journalists punished, with some even killed, for their views under Khatami. Shiite women have been harshly restricted and treated as inferiors under state-enforced religious law. Cases of women stoned for adultery surfaced during Khatami’s tenure.

If Khatami is a moderate, it is truly frightening to think of what the radicals will do.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Khatami is speaking at Harvard on September 10. His topic is "Ethics of Tolerance in the Age of Violence." I wonder what he thinks of the purging of liberal professors by the current president of Iran. I wonder if Dick Cheney would be allowed to speak at Tehran University. The hypocracy is overwhelming.

7:42 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home